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December 13, 2021


SR Schulz

I’m watching Lion King with my kids for the 507th time and I get to the part where Rafiki, the baboon, who acts sort of like a master of ceremonies for the royal family, paints Simba on the wall of his tree house. Rafiki has a few other things painted there but this one, you can tell, this one means something. As he paints it, he says Simba’s name out loud like an incantation. You can feel the immensity of hope riding on this kid’s life. Rafiki puts a stripe on the painting and smiles like it’s all gonna be alright.  But it’s not gonna be alright. We all know that. Simba gets chased into exile and his Dad is murdered by his usurping brother who seizes the throne. Rafiki goes home, overwhelmed with grief, and smears his painting of Simba. He doesn’t erase it or paint over it. It’s still there, just ruined and almost unrecognizable. A monument to his sadness because he probably needs a monument, right? Something to connect him to the past? Because Rafiki’s world is utter shit. Fascist predatory gangs rise up in their self-righteous rebellion. Rafiki watches them rape the land while a cruel dictator oversees the destruction. ‘What about tomorrow?’ Rafiki is screaming in his head. ‘Is the impulsive gluttony worth a ruined future?’ But Rafiki knows the answer. From his tree, he sees fires consume verdant grasslands. He sees animals starve and suffer. He watches hope die. And my kids look over at me and see tears in my eyes and they tell me, ‘Don’t worry Dad, Simba comes back, it will all be okay.’ But in my head, I’m thinking of Rafiki alone in that tree with nothing to live for, watching the world burn, for what, a decade? At first, he probably thought it was a blip—things will correct themselves and the forces of good will prevail. But the days turn to weeks, and weeks to months and Rafiki is sitting in his tree, eating a fruit or whatever baboons eat, and he’s thinking about getting the calories in so he doesn’t starve, but he’s not enjoying it—he doesn’t enjoy anything anymore—he just eats so he doesn’t starve, and he doesn’t want to starve because he doesn’t want pain, and his vision is going in and out of focus, and he stares blankly ahead, and his mind wanders between the past and the future, and all the sudden he focuses randomly on that smeared painting, and everything hits him—the trauma, the grief, the hopelessness and violence, the ruthlessness and chaos—and maybe he climbs up to the top of the tree where he can get a better look of the land, and he sees fires in the distance, and he thinks maybe he should leave this tree. Maybe there’s nothing left for him here. He looks out at the wild reaches of the Great Rift Valley to the deserts and jungles beyond, and he thinks maybe that’s where things are better. Maybe everything’s okay out there. But he doesn’t want to leave, or maybe he can’t. He’s tied to the destiny of the land just like the land itself. But how stupid is that? Because the bad times may never end, right? Because at what point does he look around and realize this is just the way it is. He’s been holding on so tight, not wanting to let go of what he had, but knows he’ll have to let go eventually. Why not now? And maybe Rafiki crumples into the fetal position as the night sky envelops his canopy and thinks that there’s no way to know. He realizes that life has no rule book or map. No way to check the answers or see what lies ahead. And he gives up trying to figure out how he’s supposed to live and just lives—one day after the next, just trying to find some meaning and hope in the little things, but also accepting that the world is chaotic and violent and unpredictable. He exists in a fugue state, going through the motions, but he never rids himself of that painting, that smeared hope—that remnant of a future lost. And now my kids are cheering because the bad guy is being consumed by the same violent gangs he helped conjure, and the rains come, and then, the sun. And I think of the painting in the tree.